Post-war British Politics of Consensus

Table of contents
1. Introduction
2. Post-war consensus
3. The lack of consensus
4. Conclusion
5. Works cited

The post-war period was an extremely difficult period in the history of Great Britain. In fact, after the end of the World War II the country was practically ruined in the result of the regular bombings from the part of the German aviation and the entire infrastructure of the country was in a very poor condition. What is more important, traditional partners of the UK in international relations both political and economic, European countries, such as France, were also affected dramatically by the war and the entire continent had to recover from the disastrous consequences of the World War II.
At the same time, all the countries, including the UK, perfectly realized that they would not be able to survive another military conflict of such a scale as the world war. In this respect, it was vitally important to prevent the growing tension within the society in order to decrease the threat from the part of extremist parties similar to Nazi party in Germany. As a result, the socially oriented politics targeting the minimization of tension between different classes and solution of the problem of poverty was one of the major trends in the UK politics of the post-war era. This is why this politics was called the politics of consensus since it focused on the search of compromise which could create conditions of the prosperity of all classes of British society. However, despite noble goals British governments attempted to achieve in terms of the politics of consensus, it is still possible to argue that this politics did not lead to the consensus but rather to attempts to ignore actual problems of British society which eventually resulted in the collapse of politics of consensus by 1979 (Robbins, 2004).

Politics of consensus
Basically, it is traditionally believed the after the end of the World War the official politics of the British government was characterized by consensus. It is necessary to underline that supporters of such a point of view on the British post-war politics argue that this was a characteristic of all post-war governments, i.e. governments of Labor and Conservative parties, which replaced each other in post-war era (Keylor and Bannister, 2004). In fact, this means that the politics of consensus was the general strategy of the development of the UK accepted by both major political forces of Great Britain, the Labor Party and its opponent, the Conservative party.
In general, the politics of consensus was the logical choice the political elite of the UK had made just after the end of the war. It was obvious that country needed a fast and effective reconstruction in order to overcome the economic crisis which inevitably followed the end of the war because the country was dramatically affected by military actions of Germany and allies and needed some time to recover from the effects of the war. At the same time, there was a real threat of the profound crisis within British society caused by the numerous economic problems resulting from the World War II. In such a situation, the government, whether represented by the Labor Party or the Conservative Party, had to prevent the growing tension in society. Otherwise, the growing poverty would lead to the marginalization of the large part of society that could lead to its radicalization or even social revolution. Anyway, the growing poverty was one of the major reasons of the World War II.
As a result, the UK government formed by the Labor Party started the politics which was defined as the politics of consensus. Basically, this politics incorporated some ideas of social justice and division of national welfare in such a way that the government could prevent the marginalization of large classes of British society. In order to meet this goal and appease the growing antagonism between rich and poor, the UK government launched a socially-oriented politics, which could be defined as the politics of consensus (Heilbroner and Milber, 2002).
In practice, this politics resulted in the creation of numerous social programs which targeted the improvement of the position of ordinary British people, especially those in need. In this respect, it is possible to single out the creation of the National Health Service which made health services more accessible to the wide public and, in fact, eliminated barriers to health services of a relatively high quality to all people, regardless their social status.
Furthermore, this politics was based on the idea of the increasing role of the state in the national economy. It was obvious that numerous social programs needed funds. This is why major industries were nationalized in order to increase their effectiveness and provide the government with the essential funds to finance its social programs. Obviously, the economic politics of the UK governments after the end of the World War II was based on Keynesian principles that made the government a significant player in the national economy.
Finally, in terms of the politics of consensus the government attempted to create the welfare state where all people had access to basic services, such as health care and education, which were amply supported by the government (Keylor and Bannister, 2004). As a result, the government increased its presence and interference in the national economy and attempted to redirect wealth in such a way that it would be possible to provide all citizens of the UK with high quality of life meeting the modern standards of the welfare state.
The lack of consensus
However, many specialists argue that the politics of consensus had practically nothing in common with consensus itself (Heilbroner and Milber, 2002). In this respect, it is necessary to underline that the politics of the UK government after the end of the World War II was basically determined by the objective need to improve the life of the vast layers of British society which were in a poor position. To put it more precisely, millions of British people lived close or even beyond the poverty ceil that naturally forced the government to undertake certain steps to prevent the marginalization of these people. As a result, this politics could be characterized rather as the struggle with poverty than efforts for the consensus.
Objectively speaking, the term consensus implies that the principle of social justice or agreement involves all members of British society. This means that the improvement of the position of the lower classes should occur due to certain compromise with upper classes. In the case of the UK, in the post-war era, the government simply nationalized the major industries in such a way, taking responsibility for the welfare of the lower classes of British society, while the upper classes, i.e. the former owners of the major industries, simply received the compensation from the government for their property and, in fact, did not lose anything. At any rate, the losses of the upper classes were incomparably lower than the investments made by the government to guarantee the welfare of all citizens of the UK.
Furthermore, even after the nationalization, the UK government did not change the economic relationships that was another important condition of the prosperity and that should be a part of the politics of consensus. What is meant here is the fact that the government simply replaced the private owners of the major industries and practically became the larger owner and the main player in the national economy replacing private owners. In such a way, the government could redirect the national wealth as the major player in the national economy while its politics could not always the interests of both upper and lower classes (Robbins, 2004). As a result, it is hardly possible to speak about the real politics of consensus but, instead, it would be more precise to estimate that it was the politics of the government imposing its will to its citizens. Even though the government attempted to improve the position of the lower and middle class of the UK, it still did not make any compromises to make upper classes to share their wealth with representatives of the lower classes. Instead, the government simply attempted to redirect the national welfare according to its own will, while lower classes did not get any effective tools to improve their position considerably. In other words, instead of receiving effective economic tools to improve their position, representatives of lower classes should simply count for the support of the government that made them totally dependent on the government they elect, while the position of upper classes had not deteriorated considerably since the end of the World War II as they had not share their wealth with the rest of British society.

Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the politics of the UK government can be characterized as the politics of consensus only partially because, in spite of the efforts of the government to create a welfare state it failed to make radical changes in socio-economic relationships giving ordinary people direct access to the national wealth, such as ownership of large companies, for instance, which were nationalized, but ordinary people could hardly influence their work or benefit somehow from them. As a result, the government increased its role and interference in the national economy attempting to close the gap between rich and poor through the state support of the latter but not the compromise with the former.

Works cited:
Bauer, E. The History of World War II. New York: New Publishers, 1996.
Harms, W. Poverty definition flawed, more accurate measure needed. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995.
Heilbroner, R.L. and W.S. Milber. The Making of Economic Society. London: Princeton Hall, 2002.
Keylor, W.R. and J. Bannister. The Twentieth Century World. New York: Random House, 2004.
Robbins, R. Global Problems and the Culture of Capitalism. New York: Allyson and Bacon, 2004.

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